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Man Utd 2-2 Fulham Prem 25 1314 The Guardian

last updated Monday 10th February 2014, 10:12 AM

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Jamie Jackson at The Guardian

Man Utd (0) 2 Fulham (1) 2

For too long this appeared likely to be the nadir of Manchester United's most difficult of seasons. To lose with a side parading Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie to the bottom-placed club who had won only one of their previous eight games would have caused the darkest of glooms to descend on David Moyes and his struggling champions.

The subsequent fallout is still the stuff of nightmares. United and their manager seemed on the verge of a much-needed win after Steve Sidwell's opener had been answered by late goals from Van Persie and Michael Carrick. That was until Darren Bent's equaliser in the fourth minute of added time, which followed a weak clearing header from Nemanja Vidic, had again exposed United's soft underbelly. Now the focus will turn to whether United will be consigned to a place in the Europa League next season.

United had already lost eight times in defence of their title and, though the latest reverse came in the previous match at Stoke City, the prospect of losing at home to Fulham had not been countenanced.

For the hour that Sidwell's volley went unanswered - and despite sending in a Premier League record of 81 crosses - a dire defeat looked on the cards.

Then Van Persie equalised with a close-range finish from a Mata pass and Carrick's shot from 20 yards was deflected into the top corner, sending Old Trafford into a delirium that spoke loudly of the desperation that had been proving ever more oppressive. The cheers, though, were soon to be replaced by disbelieving silence.

Earlier, the alarm bell that has rung too many times this season had been sounded by Sidwell after 19 minutes. United seemed asleep, with Darren Fletcher in the deepest slumber as he failed to track the Fulham captain's surge into the penalty area. Lewis Holtby found Sidwell with a sweet pass over the top and the midfielder fired past David de Gea.

Moyes's side had a gilded opportunity to equalise immediately, yet when Rafael da Silva's cross looped on to the usually lethal left boot of Van Persie he struck the ball over from two yards out. United were laying siege to the Fulham goal, with a concerned Moyes having taken up a position in the technical area. He watched as a Carrick volley from 20 yards narrowly missed to the left with Maarten Stekelenburg beaten and Rooney, Van Persie, Ashley Young and Vidic huffed and puffed but failed to secure the equaliser.

If one sequence suggested this might not be United's day it was when Carrick sent a powerful drive through a crowded area that Stekelenburg somehow managed to save. Van Persie's follow-up was deflected for a corner, and, from this, Vidic's clear header went straight into the goalkeeper's hands.

Before that Fulham should have doubled their advantage. From a United corner Kieran Richardson found Muamer Tankovic and the forward raced 70 yards to the other end. Richardson kept pace but when Tankovic slid the ball back to him, the former United player blasted over from close range.

This left Moyes needing to find some words of inspiration at half-time, United having nothing to show for the 46 crosses they had produced in the opening period, though not all of them were of the highest standard.

There was more of the same as the second half began. Rafael spooned an attempt from the right before United put together an impressive passage of play. Mata, who appeared wasted in a position wide on the right, collected the ball and swept a fine 40-yard diagonal pass to Van Persie. The forward moved down the left and when the delivery came over Rooney was unlucky not to connect.

The sense that a United goal was coming was heightened when Rooney forced a brilliant reflex save from Stekelenburg, who was in superb form.

Stekelenburg again saved Fulham by keeping out Rafael's stooping header and an increasingly worried Moyes acted on the hour by taking off Fletcher and sending on Adnan Januzaj.

Further changes followed with Javier Hernández replacing Young and Antonio Valencia coming on for Rafael, as Moyes urged his team to throw everything into attack. However, for all their efforts United were left to ponder another deeply disappointing result.

For Sidwell, however, there was only joy. "It's a massive point, I'm speechless really," he said. "We put a lot of effort in and rode our luck but came away with a point. It was hard. It's never easy coming here so hopefully we can kick on now for the rest of the season. We had chances to put it to bed in the first half and I thought we deserved a point."

Bent, who had come on at half-time, said: "The team worked so hard in the first half and when you go 2-1 down at these kind of places you think the worst but we hoped for one more chance and I managed to put it away. I hope this can be a turning point. When you come here you always have it hard but we didn't let out heads drop."

Moyes now faces the task of restoring morale for Wednesday's trip to Arsenal, opponents who will be eager to make amends for their humiliation at Anfield.

Man of the match: Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham)

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